Archive for March, 2006

Legally-mandated Content Interoperability?

Apple’s closed system for music sales is under attack from French lawmakers. It may seem ironic that the country that invented central planning is leading the charge for the bazaar over the cathedral, but this has major implications for closed end-end systems across multiple domains, including ePublishing. Especially if other jurisdictions were to follow the French example, mandated DRM interoperability could lead to increased consumer choice and the end of “walled garden” content distribution systems.
On the other hand, scads of current business models, ranging from mobile phones to sat radio to TiVo, are based on subsidizing sales of hardware devices tied to particular services. If legally-mandated content interoperability were to eliminate such business models, might consumers actually suffer, because few new services get built, or because usability is weakened by lack of compelling end-end solutions?
I personally believe that consumers would probably benefit overall. There is a brisk business in both devices and services built around Windows Media Audio which, while proprietary, is interoperable. The Internet, mobile voice & SMS are all built around interoperability and (uncoincidentally) have grown at immense rates.
iMode revolutionized mobile data because it adopted the Internet model, where anyone could create content sites, rather than the WAP model of an operator-controlled content portal. In general if you create an ecosystem that lets innovation and competition happen on both ends – device and services – you will evolve much faster. A competitive market may generate less elegant solutions (viz. Windows PCs vs. Macs, and the human appendix) but that is more than made up for by the network effects.

Reading 2.0 recap

Tim O’Reilly wrote a fantastic link list -cum- distillation of yesterday’s Reading 2.0 event. I found this small-scale gathering incredibly valuable and stimulating. To me the high-order bit was the cross-pollination between the worlds of academic/library systems and commercial publishing. There seems to be immense potential for fusion of initiatives coming from academic/library realms (such as OpenURL, COinS, and OAI), with requirements for commercial digital publishing. With Web 2.0 principles as glue to ensure open, interoperable, good-enough solutions that stimulate user-driven network effects. And it was a blast to get a chance to interact F2F with many of the key thought leaders working on accelerating digital distribution and consumption of textual information.

New slashdot thread on eBooks

eBooks – what’s holding you back? is generating some interesting discussion. This is not the first time Cliff has taken up eBooks, and as always on slashdot there’s a fair bit of noise in the signal, but also some fresh and thoughtful comments, including around the inverse question: “why should I take up eBooks?” Well worth a read.

Origami and the demise of the PC

CNN published today a faint-praise indictment of Microsoft’s Origami mini-Tablet PC initiative. I agree with the gist of the review – a half-decent Japanese keitai has all the functionality and ten times the battery life. And, purpose-made devices like iPod and digital camera are still superior in the early phase of adoption of new modalities of interaction with digital content. I think this will be true of e-Reading as well, which is why I’m bullish on devices like the upcoming Sony Reader.
But I can’t help feeling that there’s a bigger story here. To me, Origami is a signal that the PC’s time is passing: the desktop and notebook form factors that we in the U.S. have been familiar with for decades now are about to give way to devices that are truly portable. 90% of what I do day in and day out on a PC – including writing this post – could be done with a Blackberry, a keitai, or an Origami Tablet. That percentage would be higher if I were a typical consumer, rather than a geeky IT dude. Give Moore’s Law and Taiwanese/Chinese HW manufacturers another year or two and the price and battery life that cause CNN to slam Origami will be history. Or, thanks to embedded Linux, OpenOffice, and open email systems there are devices now that have the price and battery life issues fixed. Another answer would be a thumb drive that I lets me take my personal OS and data files to any computer but I tend to believe that the convergence of this with the phone is more compelling: one device in my pocket, always-on, always-connected.
Already in Japan and Korea the PC is viewed as only the “old people and salaryman’s computing device”. Down the street at Cafe Zoka the students all have notebook PCs open and are madly IM’ing and MySpace’ing. But in Tokyo and Seoul it’s another story. The mobile phone is the bread and butter computing platform and the PC is the occasional gadget.